Flavored whiskey is a very hit-and-miss market. Nevertheless, it’s rapidly expanding. Just about every brand has some sort of flavored whiskey, bourbon, or rye these days. By adding flavor to barrels that wouldn’t otherwise fit a standard bottle’s flavor profile, they’re able to shrink waste while growing their product lines — there’s a certain practicality to it.
This begs the question: Are there good flavored whiskeys out there? Or are they all sugar bombs?
Today, I’m doing a blind tasting of eight flavored whiskeys (all from the U.S.). Before we begin, let me admit — I’m on the record as really not digging flavored whiskey. It’s often far too sweet for my palate. That said, I can look at something objectively. Does this whiskey actually deliver on what’s promised on the label? Is it somewhat balanced? Is there any complexity? If so, then I can appreciate it for what it is. If not, it’s hard to find a purpose or use for it.
Our lineup today is:
- Sapling Maple Bourbon
- R6 Carmela Caramel Flavored Whiskey
- Heritage Cocoa Bomb Whiskey
- Sapling Maple Rye
- Traverse City Whiskey Co. American Cherry Edition
- Duke & Dame Salted Caramel
- Sheep Dog Peanut Butter Whiskey
- Traverse City Whiskey Co. Michigan Apple
Okay, let’s see which of these flavored whiskeys stands out when put to the blind test!
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Part 1: The Tasting
This has a nice nose that’s part maple syrup and part pancake batter (very much like a sour mash bourbon) with a hint of brown sugar and maybe a dash of cinnamon and vanilla. The palate is very much on the sweet side of pancake syrup with a hint of woodiness and a tinge of vanilla frosting.
This isn’t sickeningly sweet but close. It’s also clearly “maple” something or other.
The nose is all about the ginger cookies — it’s damn near like inhaling them while still in the box, it’s that distinct. The palate is exactly the same, pure gingerbread. That sharpness from the ginger spice takes a backseat to a dose of caramel with a sweet edge that’s nearly too much.
This was very distinct and not crazy sweet. I can honestly see drinking this around the holidays (in some sort of dessert format) from this taste alone.
The nose is basically like crushing a bunch of classic Oreos in your hand and then inhaling as hard as you can with your nose right in the cookies. The palate tastes like you’re drinking an Oreo soda, in a good way. It’s weirdly specific but not overly sweet. Don’t get me wrong, this is sweet… but it’s tied to a hard chocolate vibe.
This was, again, pretty good and not overly sweet. I also love an Oreo every now and then, so I’m on board with this flavor profile.
There was very little on the nose. I had to go back and forth for a minute to pick up a hint of maple and maybe an echo of vanilla. The palate leaned into “sweet” with an underlying essence of flat cherry cola. That was about it.
This just fell flat on all fronts.
The nose on this one is all about the cheap marzipan you get from the drug store. On the palate, that sweet and pasty marzipan is infused with a huge dose of thick cherry syrup that takes over everything with a clear hint of whiskey-soaked oak, old vanilla pods, and dry cinnamon sticks rounding things out.
This was really something. It’s a cherry bomb that’s not overly sweet that actually also tastes like a whiskey.
The nose is all caramel to the point of being saccharine. The palate hits the diacetyl pretty hard with a faux (and cheap) buttery note of butterscotch (which tells me this is a little slipshod on the distilling process). The end does have a mellower salted caramel vibe but it feels more like an afterthought to the cheap butterscotch.
This feels like it’s so close to a bull’s eye yet so far away. There’s promise in there at certain moments but they get lost in the mix of too much sugar and mediocre distillate.
The nose opens with a bit of popcorn that leads into a creamy but very cheap peanut butter — I mean the knock-off stuff on the bottom shelf that’s called “Spiffy” or the like. The palate is creamy yet sweet and very clearly emulates peanut butter vibes. The end feels more like licking the inside of a plastic peanut butter jar than actually eating peanut butter, much less drinking whiskey.
I mean, this is a peanut butter whiskey and it delivered that. So it has that going for it.
This is another super-thin nose. I can find a hint of apple cider but it’s more like an empty mug that once held the juice than anything else. The palate carries on the same path with the whisper of apple cider supported by thin lines of cinnamon, oak, and maybe some vanilla but not much. The end is pretty non-existent but does remind you of apple in a very generic sense.
This felt like it had the bones but nothing on those bones to help it actually amount to anything.
Part 2: The Ranking
8. Sapling Maple Rye — Taste 4
Average Price: $45
This whiskey from Vermont starts off with MGP of Indiana rye and mixes it with local maple syrup. That juice is then re-barreled and allowed to rest before proofing and bottling.
There just wasn’t a whole lot here. The nose was barely findable and the palate wasn’t much better.
7. Duke & Dame Salted Caramel — Taste 6
Average Price: $25
This starts with a blend of 100 percent corn whiskeys with a couple of two-year-old bourbons. That juice is mixed with “natural flavors” of salted caramel to create the final product.
This felt very young on the palate. It wasn’t undrinkable but could have used a couple of years in the barrel to let those butterscotch notes settle toward a deeper caramel.
6. Traverse City Whiskey Co. Michigan Apple — Taste 8
Average Price: $30
This whiskey combines local Michigan whiskey with apples from the orchards surrounding the distillery. The whiskey is infused with those apples in the barrel before proofing, additional flavoring, and bottling.
This was a little faint. It was an apple product but you really had to dig deep to find that. At the same time, it wasn’t an overly distinct whiskey either. It just kind of was with no clear flavor profile.
5. Sheep Dog Peanut Butter Whiskey — Taste 7
Average Price: $19
This product comes from Sazerac (which owns Buffalo Trace and Barton 1792 in Kentucky). The juice is a blend of “whiskey” with “peanut butter.” Beyond those vague descriptions, not much else is known about what’s in the bottle.
I guess this was fine. I felt like this was more of a cooking whiskey than anything else. But even then, the peanut butter aspects were so plasticky and cheap that I can’t really see using it there either. That said, this was clearly a peanut butter whiskey, so… mission accomplished?
4. Sapling Maple Bourbon — Taste 1
Average Price: $45
This juice comes from a tiny distillery up in Vermont. The actual whiskey in the bottle is a sourced “American bourbon whiskey” from MGP that’s cut with local Vermont maple syrup. Once vatted, the whiskey spends some more time in oak at the distillery in Vermont before proofing and bottling.
I didn’t hate this. In fact, I could see using this as a cooking bourbon to really get those maple flavor notes into something. Cutting a waffle or pancake batter with this would make a lot of sense. Or use it in a BBQ sauce. That said, I suppose this would work in an old fashioned if you cut out the sugar from the recipe.
3. R6 Carmela Caramel Flavored Whiskey — Taste 2
Average Price: $23
This whiskey comes from the R6 Distillery in El Segundo, California. The juice is a mix of “whiskey” flavored with caramel and named after Carmel, California. Beyond that, little else is known about the juice.
This was pretty damn good. It has a nice balance between the ginger cookies and caramel finish that takes you somewhere. It was a tad sweet for me but that doesn’t take away from the quality of the product.
All of that said, I would have pegged this as a ginger product and not a caramel one.
2. Heritage Cocoa Bomb Whiskey — Taste 3
Average Price: $35
This whiskey from Seattle is a low-proof local distillate. That juice is then flavored with cane sugar to amplify the chocolate notes in the whiskey, creating this specific flavor profile.
This was one of the more distinct whiskeys on the list. It was very clearly something chocolate flavored and didn’t overdo the sugar. Had there been a little more depth to the overall flavor profile, this might have won the day.
1. Traverse City Whiskey Co. American Cherry Edition — Taste 5
Average Price: $50
This local whiskey from up in Michigan is all about that “local” experience in the bottle. The whiskey is steeped with Montmorency cherries grown on the farm that surrounds the distillery. The whiskey does have “natural flavors” added to round out the palate but relies on those cherries layering into the whiskey as the main flavoring component.
This was the most complex and “whiskey-like” drinking experience on the list by far. This was something that felt more like a whiskey that simply leaned into a nutty and cherry-forward flavor profile instead of getting jacked up with sugars to recreate those flavors.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
There were some perfectly good whiskeys on this list, even I have to admit that. There were also some stinkers from a fundamental point of view. I’d say the bottom three should be avoided. Five, four, and three are all interesting and deliver on their promise — but I’m not going to go out of my way to find them.
As for two and one, they’re what you want to seek out. That Heritage Cocoa Bomb Whiskey not only delivered on its label promise but was a distinct and well-flavored chocolate bomb. The Traverse City Cherry, on the other hand, was just a well-made product. I can see drinking it in a highball on a hot summer day and not having a single thing to worry about. It felt like a whiskey that leaned into cherry instead of a distillate cut with cherry syrup. That’s a winner.